Aaaaaand time to finish this diary up. All good things must come to an end!
Tuesday, 14 August – London: National Science Museum, South Bank, Globe Theatre
Back in London after several days on a bike, I was excited to poke my nose around more places. Aimee had told me that the museums were free, though a donation was requested, so I decided to check those out. Conveniently there are four museums in close proximity: the science museum, natural history museum, art museum, and V&A (Victoria and Albert) museum. I decided to hit the science museum first. Because science is awesome.
I was impressed from the moment I walked into the science museum. It felt very… i dunno… sciency. Futuristic. A huge ring hanging from the ceiling with a digital display on it, spinning around. A good portion of the center area was taken up by the space displays and included a VERY loud symphony being played, each piece inspired by one of the planets of the solar system. I like classical music, but it was rather overwhelming. Thankfully there were loads of things to see.
The layout was kind of weird and hard to navigate, so the first place I decided to check out was the exhibit on home appliances in the basement. Yes, home appliances. I’m weird, I know. Cases full of the history of the toaster over and the hair dryer and clothes washers and security systems. It was fascinating! One wall was covered with curious items with a list next to them for you to try to guess what their function was by pressing a button. I wish I could recall exactly what some of them were, but mainly they were oddly specific like a shoelace ironer or something. I’m pleased to say that I got everything but one correct.
After that I decided to head to the time display. My grandpa has a hobby fixing clocks, so I’ve always thought clocks were cool. Every clock you can imagine from water clocks to sun dials (including pocket sun dials) to a clock hooked up to the atomic clock, grandfather clocks, and a ball clock! I took a video of it to show my grandpa, but basically instead of a pendulum a ball rolled down a track then the track tilted for the ball to roll back.
Next was a math display that included paper polygons and a crazy selection of Klein bottles. An aviation wing. The long player designed to play a 1000-year-long piece of music (which sounded like a lot of gongs). A hands-on kids area that was REALLY fun to play. A section on energy, and an electric taxi cab from 1897. 1897! There was also a huge pole marked “DO NOT TOUCH” and when you got close it make a noise. The sign said if you touched it you would get shocked. I guess referencing the psychology branch of science? I thought it was cool. (I touched it, quickly, but didn’t feel a zap.)
I was only in the museum for a couple hours but I was exhausted. I guess my body got used to being on a bike, so all this walking again tired me out again. Aimee and I had tickets to see Henry V at the Globe that evening, but I had a lot of time to kill. So I headed to the south bank.
The sky was a perfect blue with puffy white clouds, so I snapped some shots of the Elizabeth Tower (again) and the London Eye. I had been debating riding the Eye, but a glance at the huge line to purchase tickets (followed by another line to actually get on the Eye) discouraged me. Instead browsed a book store. There were a number of books near the door that were about London, and I took photos of the covers of some of them so that I could read them later – things like history of the underground.
Got an ice cream cone and walked across the Millennium Bridge to see Saint Paul’s Cathedral up close. Walked back and found a seat on the stoop in front of the Globe to read a free book they had handed out at the science museum written by their writer-in-residence: “My Running Hell: an everyman’s jogging memoir”. It was a fun read.
Found my seat in the Globe and Aimee joined me. I was very glad I wasn’t a groundling, standing for the entire time! Imagine if it had rained? But the weather was nice, and the only interruption was the planes flying overhead that were headed for Heathrow.
Henry V wasn’t terribly interesting, but it had its moments. At one point, the king goes down into his army’s camp under cover to hear what they really think about the war. I know this sounds like a little thing, and I really can’t remember much about it from the play, but it was at that point that I remembered reading the stories of all the Old Testament kings. And I got a craving to read them again. The next morning I was pulling out my Bible while waiting in the underground.
It was dark when we left. I had never seen London at night, having always been back to Aimee’s by about 7:00. It was lovely! I tried to take pictures, but my camera wasn’t as cooperative as it had been in Prague.
Wednesday, 15 August – London Eye, Natural History Museum, V&A Museum, Piccadilly Circus
I got to the London Eye an hour before it opened, and there was already a significant line to get tickets. The weather wasn’t as nice as it had been the day before – not raining (yet) but quite grey.
To be honest, riding the Eye was just okay. It was neat to be able to see some of the things I had seen from the ground from the air instead. And there were some interactive touch screens to help point out the different landmarks. But if I had to do it again I would have made sure to go on a day with nicer weather. Or at night. I think at night it would be spectacular.
Then, back to the museums. I had asked Aimee which ones she’s recommend for my last day because I doubted I could see them all, and she said I should at least stop by the natural history museum because the building is amazing.
It started raining while I was standing in line. I guess everyone was having the same thought, “It’s raining. Let’s go to the museum.” Aimee was right: the building was extraordinary.
But, it was PACKED full of people. I started walking down one wing to check out a display before realizing, “You know, I really don’t care about fossils. Like, at all. Maybe this isn’t the place for me.” Even so, I still decided to walk through the dinosaurs exhibit before I left. Because, dinosaurs!!!
Huge mistake. The exhibit was a one-way path that put you up on an open catwalk to walk over the length of the exhibit first so you could see everything from overhead and get excited about dinosaurs before you descended to wander through the labyrinth of displays and fossils below. The museum was packed, but it was clear that everybody loved dinosaurs. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we were jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder along this eight-foot-wide catwalk – parents, kids, strollers, tourists. Apparently, I don’t like crowds. And this is when I discovered that. As much as possible, I said, “Excuse me. Pardon me,” and slowly edged my way forward through the crowd – thankful that I was alone and didn’t have to worry about staying with anyone. At the end of the catwalk you went path a huge animatronic T-Rex, where everyone was stopping to take pictures. I held up my camera for a blurry shot but hustled past. Unfortunately, there was no shortcut out of the dinosaur labyrinth. It was much less crowded below, but I still rushed through to get out, ready to leave this museum behind me. As I excited the dino room, I saw they had started queuing people in the lobby. I felt really sorry for them.
I grabbed a sandwich from a street vendor outside (I wonder how many sandwiches I ate in London? a LOT…), and walked the half block to the Victoria and Albert museum. I asked Aimee to explain what it was and she just said “design museum”. As soon as I walked in and saw the thirty-foot Chihuly glass chandelier above the ticket sales kiosk, I knew this was the place for me.
The museum was laid out by medium. There was a marble sculpture display. A wrought-iron display hallway with things like benches and elaborate fencing. Glass artwork and design. A display for theater arts like set design and costumes and props. A room that was all jewellery – which was popular (ooo, sparklies!) but not NEAR as crowded as the history museum. I spent the longest time in the architecture room which was full of models.
One of the most interesting was the cast room, full of casting of famous sculptures from around the world – like David. When traveling was more cumbersome, they used to make castings of the sculptures so that people could go to a more local location to see them. Now, some of the original sculpture are starting to fall apart, so the castings are supremely important as a historical record.
The museum was free, but I paid extra to see the Thomas Heatherwick exhibit, which was mind-blowing. I can’t even really describe it. Extruded benches. Bridges that roll up. New double-decker busses. Bags made of zippers. The Olympic cauldron. Some items were impractical but most were RIDICULOUSLY practical, designed to solve a problem both creatively and beautifully! I can’t stand impractical or overly flowery design, so I was in heaven! (Sorry, architecture school, but that was one of the things that frustrated me the most about you.) Photographs weren’t allowed, and as much as I really wanted to purchase his book it was expensive and too big to fit in my suitcase. Here’s an example of a newspaper stand he designed. But Google him to find more amazing stuff!
I was flying back to the US the next day, but so was Aimee – early in the morning and from another airport so she wouldn’t be staying the last night with me. I texted to see if she wanted any help packed or wanted me to stay away so she could chill, and got the latter response. So I headed to Piccadilly Circus. Not for any particular reason, just because you see establishing shots of it in film and TV. Like Times Square.
The weather had cleared up, and the placed was packed. You could tell it was a tourist location because every other shop was one that sold British souvenirs. I ducked into many of them, searching for one of those Team GB jerseys I loved so much. No success. I pulled all of the coins out of my wallet and tried to spend all of them since the bank back home would only exchange paper currency. A few tea towels. A mug. Then stopped at TGIFridays for my last British meal. Yeah, American food. So sue me. I was really hungry and didn’t want to hunt for another place. And it tasted sooo good.
Returned to Aimee’s late and stayed up until 12:00 watching television, trying to get my brain to start resetting for the seven hour time zone change it would experience on Thursday.
Thursday, 16 August – flying back to Colorado via Iceland
I loved London. The lifestyle and pace seemed to fit well for me. But three weeks of traveling was exhausting, and I was also ready to go home. My last underground ride to Heathrow.
Wandered the Heathrow shops while waiting for my gate to be announced. Had fun looking through the things in Harrod’s. Then I saw a free-standing Olympics shop kiosk. I had looked through dozens of locations for a Team GB jersey, so may as well look at my last opportunity.
The shop had been picked pretty clean now that the Olympics were over, but there was still a good group of travelers ready to pick up a souvenir before flying home. I scanned the clothing shelves and racks. All standard t-shirts. But my eye saw a white blob bunched up behind a handful of black, XL mens shirts. Pulling it out, I saw that it was a ladies Team GB track jersey knit shirt with that blue-on-blue design I loved so much on the back. No others to be seen anywhere. No tag. And my size!
Gripping it tightly I turned to the register, where two men were slowly adding to a pile of stuff they were intending to purchase, apparently oblivious of the rest of the customers. I looked down at the shirt in my hands, turning it over, looking for some flaw or stain that would explain how it ended up here all by itself, official replica kit in a sea of souvenirs. Nothing. It was perfect. The only other option I had seen to buy kit (in my size) in all my shopping had been that footballers jersey in Bath, and it was 35 pounds – marked down from 45. How much would this cost? Finally the men finished buying all their stuff and the clerk turned to me so I could ask the price of the shirt. Twenty six pounds. Sold! I pulled out exact change from my ready wallet while the clerk said that it was a ladies track jersey and asked if I was a runner. To which I replied yes. Then I went into the bathroom and changed into my new shirt for the journey home.
Keflavik, you really need to work on your airport management. Suggestion #1: more seating! There weren’t enough seats at the gate for even half of the people that would fill one 737. Suggestion #2: don’t schedule three 737 flights to depart within half an hour of each other at adjoining gates until you have implemented suggestion #1. I sat with a few people on a security sorting table. Luckily I had my new shirt to elate my mood.
For the flight from Iceland to Denver I shared my row with a lovely US couple who had been visiting Amsterdam. I rarely talk to people on planes, but they started up a conversation with me. He was an aviation engineer so had all kinds of neat things to tell me about planes. Eventually we settled down to watch our movies / read our books / nap for the long flight – but did perk up when we looked out the window to see icebergs – hundreds of them – as we approached the edge of Greenland. So. Cool.
US customs. Ugh. Can I just say how glad I was to be going through them in a smaller town rather than a place like NY or DC? I can’t imagine how crazy those lines would be. Even so, I spent longer waiting in the US customs line than I did for all customs lines for Iceland, UK, and Czech Republic combined. At least I got to watch the sunset over the mountains through the beautiful windows.
Made it officially back into the US. Borrowed a cell phone to tell my family which pick-up stop I was at. Hugs. Home. Happy.
Thanks for listening, internet! Hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures! I want to go on another one. 🙂